Nourish to Flourish: Finding My True Calling During a Gap Year

During my undergraduate CSD program in 2012, I travelled to Europe for the first time on a study abroad trip to Italy. It wasn’t all pasta, wine, and frolicking around the Italian hillsides–if only! The trip was part of the European Union’s Erasmus Mundus Program, which allows students around the globe to study in Italy.

Finding My Path–Teaching Italian Students How to “Speak American”

In addition to my classes and lectures in Italian studies, I taught Italian students how to improve their English language skills for their upcoming exams. I also helped them speak with an American accent, while reducing their own, and taught them some colloquial slang so they’d sound more like natural 20-year-olds.

This experience proved to me that I wanted to be a clinical speech-language pathologist. I wanted to help children, adolescents, and adults not only find their voice when it was lost, but also build bridges to facilitate language not only between English speakers, but between mother tongue English speakers and English as a Second Language (ESL) speakers, and vice versa.

Bringing My Italy Experiences Back to the States

During my time in Italy, I realized just how much I enjoyed teaching others English. Once I was back in the U.S., my interest in foreign languages and cultures broadened. I found a program at my university called the English Language Institute (ELI), which allowed me to take Italian classes, participate in Italian Club, practice in conversation groups, and become a conversation partner to foreign exchange students. These experiences supported what I felt in Italy—I wanted to do this full time.

Taking A Leap

One of my ELI professors chatted with me about using my experiences from Italy and the ELI program to become an English teacher abroad—instead of going straight to grad school. But what about my career as a SLP?!

I confided in trusted professors and supervisors and confessed my fears of losing the knowledge I’d worked so hard to gain in my CSD classes, as well as the relationships I’d made in the department and among my peers. Their opinions were a resounding, “go!” They knew this experience would make me a stronger clinician and reassured me that everything would still be here for me when I got back. I agreed and took the leap.

My Gap Year

After finishing my undergraduate program, I moved to Rome for a gap year before applying to graduate school. Well… two gap years!

In Italy, I worked as an ESL instructor in a high school, private English institutions, and a preschool, as well as through private group and individual lessons. The diversity of my students was staggering and unexpected. Often, I’d begin my day teaching 14-year-olds how to properly structure an argumentative essay and end the day teaching adults about proper phrases and greetings to use in a restaurant or party. I worked with singers and actors for accent reduction—even collaborated on song translations with an underground rock group!

Nourish to Flourish

When reflecting on my first semester of grad school and my first independent clinical experience, I’m certain my time as an ESL instructor allowed me to flourish in my clinical abilities. The sensitivity and creativity that was required of me as an ESL Instructor is an integral part of our field. Most importantly, our focus will be on each individual client and their success, both inside and outside of their sessions.

Moving to a foreign country can truly open up a whole new world for you–it did for me! As a student, it sparked new flames for knowledge. As a clinician, it heightened my awareness for culturally and linguistic different people. As a person, it deepened my appreciation for others who were different from me. So, take that chance… jump into the unknown. You’ll be surprised at the impact it’ll have on your life!


  1. Elizabeth Kaurich January 23, 2018 at 10:32 pm

    Thanks Fiona! We are so fortunate to be able to serve such a vast population with innumerable etiologies and backgrounds, so any experience to help us understand our clients is essential to me. As a new clinician, I am currently working with younger adults with varying cognitive disabilities and I agree that everyday you learn something new from your clients that helps you become a better communication champions for them. I’m fortunate to be exposed to a lot of varying placements early on in my first year graduate program. All the best to you!

  2. Nicole November 2, 2019 at 5:36 pm

    I am looking to do a GAP year in Italy and I would like to get in contact with the girl who wrote this if she would be willing to offer advice and chat more about her experience as an ESL teacher!


Leave A Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.